Connecting PLCs to an Enterprise Database

Michigan-based TranTek Automation designs and builds automated welding, material handling, inspection and assembly systems. The company is known for its preconfigured robotic welding cells, as well as robotic transfer units, resistance welding tip dressers, conveyors and retractable locating pins.

An automation project the company recently secured required TranTek to develop a system consisting of six plasma cutting robots capable of synchronously applying plasma torches to large, custom-made structural steel parts at using various production recipes. Plasma cutters cut metal by sending air or an inert gas through a plasma torch to ignite an electric arc. This forces the plasma through the torch tip to cut the metal. The arc of a plasma cutter can reach temperatures of 45,000°F.

tManager downloads recipes and manufacturing instructions directly to the controller.While this application was fairly straightforward for TranTek, one of the challenges for the company was figuring out how to connect the machine controller to the customer’s computer system. This step was necessary because “all steel part production data is stored in a large database within the customer’s central server,” said Jeff Ebert, Principal Controls Engineer at TranTek Automation. “Creating a higher-level connection between the PLC (programmable logic controller) and the server posed many challenges for us. We would have spent weeks writing the code so the system could access the recipe files and download them to the controller. This type of connection between controllers and databases at the enterprise level has been possible for a long time, but usually requires the development of custom code to connect the two systems. To avoid writing custom code for a single application, TranTek decided to use Softing’s tManager Enterprise Appliance transaction module. This device is designed to “seamlessly connect” enterprise-grade databases with PLCs, according to Softing. With tManager in place, TranTek Automation was able to deliver a robotic plasma cutting system that could communicate with its client’s corporate database without having to write any additional code. More importantly, tManager answered why TranTek’s customer wanted to connect the system’s PLCs to their corporate database, to download recipes and manufacturing instructions directly to the controller.

tManager enables bi-directional data exchange between enterprise systems and PLCs.tManager enables bi-directional data exchange between enterprise systems and PLCs.For this application of tManager at TranTek, Rockwell Automation’s ControlLogix and CompactLogix control platforms were connected to the customer’s enterprise databases for uploading recipe files. Besides uploading the daily recipes from the database to the ControlLogix platform, tManager is also used to upload the production metrics from the ControlLogix platform to the database to inform the company system. when the production cycles are completed.

tManager can be used with various enterprise databases, such as Microsoft SQL Server, Oracle Database, MySQL, AWS IoT SiteWise, and Azure Cloud. Additionally, through the module’s front Ethernet port, pilots can connect tManager to Allen-Bradley, Siemens, and Schneider Electric PLCs.

Ebert added that tManager configuration is simplified because, once installed in the ControlLogix rack, the transaction module automatically enumerates tags and structures from the PLC and database and can monitor tags without touching the PLC logic. “We also avoided the code maintenance headaches associated with custom software,” he said.

“With tManager’s two-way data exchange capability, our customer can now confirm and update shipping orders directly in the ERP system, allowing them to fulfill their steel parts orders faster and to accelerate its time to market,” said Ebert.

A chassis-integrated module, tManager minimizes engineering and installation time.A chassis-integrated module, tManager minimizes engineering and installation time.An added benefit of using the enterprise database to store complex production data instead of the PLC frees up “a ton of valuable resources in your PLC, such as memory, storage, and performance” , said Deane Horne, director of marketing at Softing. “You can also decouple manufacturing line changes from PLC logic changes. For example, it is much easier and safer to update an SQL table than to modify PLC logic. »

“tManager has allowed us to design a system that can seamlessly integrate production data for thousands of steel parts, from how the steel should be cut to where the holes are along the axis” , Ebert said. After tManager downloads the build recipes from the database to the PLC, plasma cutting robots can automatically adjust variables, such as amperage and gas flow.

Ebert also noted that customer TranTek is so pleased with this system that they “decided to move forward with a long-term plan to automate and upgrade their systems, and tManager has become a standard for all its facilities”.

Maria H. Underwood